Cycle of evolution
Dave Rainville bike path over Ct R
Dave Rainville on bike path in Deerfield
When I was a toddler, a bike was something the cool, older kids sped up and down the street on while I rode my tricycle. It was a goal.
When I finally got my own two-wheeler, it was, at first, a toy.
My friends and I would ride around and around our circle-shaped neighborhood’s dirt roads, not going much of anywhere. Later into our adolescence, a couple of us scraped together a few dollars in change to buy a BMX bike at a yard sale. We spray-painted it, strapped a life vest to the frame, put a rickety wooden jump at the end of a friend’s dock, and called it a lake jumper. We also did stupid things like ride down stairs and build rickety wooden jumps in the middle of the street. Somehow, we all survived.
Later, my bike became transportation. Before I hit that magic age of 16 and inherited an aging 1979 Ford Futura coupe, my two wheels took me everywhere my friends, parents, or school bus didn’t.
Now, my bike serves several purposes. I bought it for exercise, but more often find myself on slow, flat, scenic rides, where I don’t break a sweat.
I would use it for my short commute to work (I live less than 2 miles from the newsroom), but I need to have something faster on hand, should I have to race to the scene of a fire or other late-breaking news. It’s a long way to places like Rowe on pedal power.
I’ve gone through several bikes in my time, from that first, brand-new tiny two-wheeler to hodge-podged “Frankenbikes” risen from scrap-heap salvage to the off-the-rack mountain bike I have today.
Some I outgrew, others I broke, and a couple were stolen from me. I did manage to steal one back, or at least pieces of it, but that’s another story. I take better care of the one I own now, and I always lock it up.
Bought at a store,
tuned-up at home
I bought it for $125 a couple years ago. It’s a 26-inch, 21-speed mountain bike made by Genesis, a brand of Kent Bicycles International. I poked around online for reviews and found them favorable, so I drove to the store, plunked down my money, rode it from the store’s doors to my waiting pickup and took it home.
It was a department-store special, put together by someone who likely assembled a gas grill beforehand and a set of patio furniture afterward — not a bicycle specialist, to say the least.
After a brief ride, I decided to give it a tune-up.
I quickly found out I’m no bike mechanic, either. Most of my experience has been working on things with four or more wheels, so I turned to the Internet for help.
I found several tutorial videos, teaching everything from how to fine-tune the tension on derailleurs and brakes to how to straighten, or “true,” a warped wheel. I got out my hex keys and screwdrivers, set to work and wound up with a bike that shifts and stops smoothly.
It’s heavy. Weighing in at about 46 pounds, it wasn’t built for speed. Its gearing, however, is low enough to climb hills with some ease, but high enough that I only find myself topping out in high gear when I’m going downhill.
Sure, I could have bought a lighter, faster road bike, especially since I do most of my riding on pavement, but I wanted to have the option to ride over rough terrain.
Also, I always thought the curved handlebars and skinny tires on road bikes make them look silly, and that’s the same reason you won’t catch me in tight-fitting, supposedly comfortable spandex shorts. Call me self-conscious if you must.
So, I don my stiff, scratchy blue jeans, put a fresh bottle of water in my bottle holder (when I remember to), hop on my mountain bike and hit the road.
But where to go?
When I’m looking for a quick ride, I’ll often hit the Riverside Greenway Bike Path by the Green River in Greenfield. It’s as green as it sounds. The path runs from Nashs Mill Road, under Interstate 91, along the river and behind the jail and the housing developments. It starts across from the Green River Swimming and Recreation Area and ends on Riverside Drive, behind the Greenfield Gardens development.
When heading to the riverside path from the northern end, I love to build up speed before turning onto Nashs Mill Road, then tucking my head down, reducing my wind resistance and careening down the steep, winding hill.
When I’m up for a longer ride, I’ll take the Canalside Trail Bike Path, which connects Deerfield and Montague via an old railroad bridge.
Coming from Greenfield, head down Deerfield Street, over the bridge into Deerfield, and take the first left onto River Road. In about a mile, take a left onto McClelland Farm Road, where you’ll quickly cross the train tracks on an overpass and come to the railroad yard.
Across from the rail yard, a parking lot marks the beginning of the bike path.
After a short ride through the woods, the path crosses an 1880 railroad trestle, long since converted for bikes and pedestrians. Here, you can look west and watch the rushing waters where the Deerfield and Connecticut rivers merge.
Continuing on, the path runs through the woods, eventually merges with Rod Shop Road, and hooks a left onto Solar Avenue and crosses Montague City Road onto Depot Street.
Depot Street has another parking area, for those who would like to start in the middle of the path. It’s a quick ride from the lot to the Power Canal, where the paved path runs along the water, providing peeks of ducks, geese, bald eagles and more, and a few benches from which to watch. Though Avenue A runs parallel to the path just a block away, the bike path is metaphorically miles from the downtown thoroughfare.
The path continues along the canal, and goes under the Turners Falls-Gill bridge. It comes out by the fish ladder, and continues along the Connecticut River, ending on the far side of Unity Park, where parking is also available. The path continues beyond the park, but on shared roads. It’s a pretty easy path, the only hills coming at either end, in Deerfield, before the bridge, and up Unity Street, after the park in Turners Falls. It’s not too long, either. It’s about 4.6 miles from the Deerfield Street bridge in Greenfield to Unity Park. The only significant hill comes between Routes 5 and 10 and the parking lot before the bridge.
The Riverside Greenway and Canalside Trail bike paths are just two portions of the larger Greenfield-Montague Loop Bike Path. At just less than 17 miles, it goes through Greenfield, Deerfield, Turners Falls and Gill, on paved off-road trails and streets shared with cars alike.
I admit, I have yet to bike the entire loop.
Sometimes, I go for the scenery of those paved, off-road paths, other times I wind my way up and down the streets of Greenfield center, where I can get my exercise, appreciate the architecture and do some people-watching all at once.
Unless I’m just out for a quick spin around town, I like to bike to some sort of destination and back. Sometimes, I’ll start in the center of Greenfield, buy myself a sandwich or snack from one of the downtown eateries, throw it in my bag and head off for a picnic lunch.
Occasionally, when it’s hot out (but not too hot to bike), I like to head up to the Green River, and lock my bike up by one of several swimming holes on South Green River, or “Ten Mile,” Road. The entrance to each of these swimming spots is marked by a small pull-off where cars can park. Be forewarned — the first swimming hole involves a steep hike downhill, and, at the bottom, there are often skinny-dippers. After a quick swim and a bagged lunch, I’m cooled down, recharged, and ready to hit the road again.
Other times, I’ll pedal over to Turners Falls, and stop at the Turners Falls Pizza House or another restaurant for lunch.
Heading back from Turners Falls to Greenfield, you’ll find your options are even more limited on a bike than in a car.
I once rode to the canal from the Deerfield side of the bike bridge, and decided to take Turners Falls Road back.
I don’t recommend it.
It was a hair-raising ride, with no breakdown lane, no shoulder, nothing but a hill on either side, a guardrail and a quick drop to my left, and a steep incline to my right.
The other alternative, Mountain Road, is almost as frightening a ride.
To avoid these narrow roads, I usually head back the way I came, on that old railroad bridge over the Connecticut River from Montague back into Deerfield. You could also stay on Montague City Road and shave off a little more than a half-mile, if you’re in a hurry.
Though daytime rides are the most scenic, I find some of the best biking under the cover of night. The later I bike, the more I feel as if I own the road.
The streets are nearly free of cars, the temperature is cooler, and my headlight and taillight allow me to see obstacles, and others to see me.
I highly recommend lights for night biking. I’ve yet to pick one up, but a reflective vest can also help keep you from becoming road kill.
Outside the county
Sometimes, I like to bike somewhere farther away than I want to pedal. I’ll strap my bike to my car rack and head out of town, often to Northampton.
In early May, I rode from downtown Northampton to the center of Amherst, and stopped for a slice of pizza before I headed back to my car. It was a 22-mile round trip and my legs, which had barely seen a bicycle since the snow started to fly last year, let me know it.
Sure, some of you out there are saying “22 miles? That’s it?” Well, I’m not an endurance rider, especially not early in the season. I have to work up to my longer trips.
On the way back from Amherst, I hit a wall — figuratively, I’m glad to say. My energy had waned, my legs were starting to get sore; I wanted to call it quits. Then I threw on some music, and the Talking Heads replenished my reserves and got me the rest of the way back. Pedalling to the beat, I quickened my pace.
Another recent trip took me to Boston. I found street-side parking (no small task), un-racked my bike, and pedalled down the city’s streets, stopping at what seemed like every traffic light and dodging cars until I made it to the esplanade, a greenway on the south bank of the Charles River. Its paved paths are shared by joggers, bike riders and power-walkers, so your chances of being hit by a car decline sharply.
Besides that bit of riverbank beauty, I found that biking in Boston is more trouble than it’s worth. Around here, our more rural roads and relative lack of traffic lights make for a much more relaxing ride. Maybe I’m just spoiled.
I’ve only begun to chip away at the area’s bikeways. There are a number that traverse Franklin County, and several that spiderweb out from the hubs of Amherst and Northampton.
They’re yours to explore, too. You can pick up pocket-sized maps of the bike paths at the Franklin County Visitors Center, inside the Registry of Motor Vehicles, on Miner Street in Greenfield.
For online maps of Franklin County’s bike paths, visit http://goo.gl/Srh6zQ , and select the section you’d like to see.
The Whately-Conway Loop will take you through those towns, as well as the southeast corner of Deerfield. The River Road Loop goes up River Road from the Deerfield side of Sunderland Bridge, crosses the rail bridge into Montague, then it’s back through Sunderland to the other end of the bridge. Cross back into Deerfield and you can take the River Road Connection into Hampshire County via the Whately end of River Road.
For the more hardcore, trail riding is available in Greenfield’s Highland Park, Northfield Mountain, Wendell and Erving state forests and Mount Grace State Forest in Warwick, for starters. Many of these trails are built and maintained by the Pioneer Valley chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. Check them out at www.pvnemba.org.
That’s just a sample of what’s out there to explore on two wheels, never mind all the other great biking routes that aren’t officially adopted paths.
See you on (or off) the road.
Staff reporter David Rainville has worked at The Recorder since 2011. He covers Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.